Like many owners of older houses, Brigitte Parenteau and Dave Lenhardt faced that perplexing question: Should they stay or should they go?
Parenteau, a single mom, had bought the 1949 no-frills, three-bedroom rambler 20 years ago in Edina and moved in with her two young daughters.
She chose it for its big corner lot and affordability — and planned to stay only a few years. After making cosmetic improvements, she grew to appreciate its single-story simplicity and fantastic location near lakes, shopping, restaurants and Minnehaha Creek. “It was a perfect house to raise my girls,” she said.
But Parenteau wasn’t crazy about the tiny, narrow galley kitchen that was cut off from the rest of the rooms. Or that the front door opened directly into the dining room. The house had only a few small windows, and the garage blocked southern light, making the interiors even darker. Although the residence was on a big corner lot, it had no indoor-outdoor connection to its setting.
Parenteau met Lenhardt in 2014, and the couple later became engaged. Lenhardt had a big house in Plymouth, which he planned to sell so they could buy a home together. The empty-nesters began house hunting for all different types of dwellings — downtown condos, townhouses and newer single-family homes.
But they discovered that association fees “felt like another mortgage payment,” said Parenteau. And the cost of single-family homes in the area was skyrocketing — with most still requiring costly updating and remodeling.
Could Parenteau’s simple postwar Edina rambler be transformed into a smart multifunctional home for the way the couple live today, and for the future? “We thought, ‘Why don’t we just remodel what I already had?’ ” she said.
Another option was to tear down the house and start fresh. But the couple considered it only “for three nanoseconds,” said Lenhardt.
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Parenteau had an emotional attachment to the home and its “20 years of memories with my girls,” she said. “I had a hard time stripping all that away and having it all brand new.”
Lenhardt agreed. “I didn’t want to tear it down and build a big, suburban-style house, like I had in Plymouth.”
It was settled. They would stay, invest in the rambler — and make it their own.
The couple’s church friends referred them to architects Christopher Strom and Theo Grothe of Christopher Strom Architects in St. Louis Park.
“Our plan had to accommodate two empty-nester households and two personalities,” said Strom. Other design goals were to “embrace the south light, allow space for Brigitte’s gardens, and create a better connection to the neighborhood.”
At first, Strom and Grothe proposed adding a second story to the home. “One story doesn’t maximize the value of the property,” said Strom.
But the couple nixed that idea, opting for one-level living that would allow them to age in place and stay for the long term. “We also wanted to keep the midcentury modern look, have it fit in the neighborhood, and feel like it had always been here,” said Parenteau.
The couple requested that the renovation create a new and improved rambler — while saving some old spaces.
Parenteau wanted to keep her daughters’ two bedrooms for sentimental reasons. “There’s still the measurements on the wall from when they were growing up,” she said.
The architects’ final design plan was a partial teardown and rebuild of the single-story home, with the builder working around the two bedrooms.
Among the improvements was shifting the front door from the left side of the house to the right side, which now opens to a more defined front entry.
To add more living space, they tore down a ramshackle screen porch off the back of the house. In its place is a 230-square-foot addition, which holds a new living room, mudroom and a bigger kitchen.
The warm gray-and-white kitchen is twice the size of the old one. The huge center island accommodates a casual eating area and sink facing a new long bank of windows. The marble-look quartz-topped island and vintage-style butcher-block countertop are bordered by oversized white glazed subway tile.
“It’s so easy to cook in the new kitchen, and people can gather around,” said Parenteau. “I don’t feel isolated.”
Appliances are hidden; for example, the dishwasher is built into a lower cabinet, and the SubZero refrigerator disappears behind an integrated panel. “It keeps it clean, and the focus is on the light and views,” said Strom.
Strom calls a full-wall cabinet the “fire and ice box” because it holds the refrigerator on one side and the living room’s gas fireplace on the other side.
The gas fireplace surround is clad in porcelain tile that mimics the cool look of rusted Corten steel — without the cost.
A new narrow-plank oak floor flawlessly matches the original 1940s flooring elsewhere in the home.
The architects decided to leave the staircase leading to the basement in its original spot because moving it would require additional structural costs, said Grothe.
“But we opened it up to the living space and turned it into a unique visual feature,” he said. It’s now light and airy, thanks to a wrought-iron railing with a “belly bar” design turned sidewise for a more modern vibe.
A bank of three horizontal windows fills the new wall on the corner street side to draw light deep into the home. When the couple moved back last year, Parenteau had to adapt to the new surroundings. “At first, it felt too stark, bright and exposed,” she said, “but now I love the light and warm sun in the winter.”
Down the hall, the existing owners’ bedroom, which was likely a 1980s addition, was always cold. Strom Architects’ floor plan reconfigured the bedroom, a kids’ playroom and a bathroom into a warm and comfortable suite furnished with a marble-look tiled bathroom and oversized shower.
Parenteau asked the builder not to fix the squeaky floor in the hallway in front of her daughters’ bedrooms, which are now used as a den and guest room. “I like the old-house sound of a squeak,” she said.
The living-room addition steps outside to a big courtyard-style patio sheltered under the home’s deep overhangs. The old one-car garage had to go because it blocked southern sunlight and street views. A larger garage was built adjacent to the patio.
Parenteau heard that Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis was disposing of metal and copper screens. So she snapped up four of them, flipped them horizontally, and erected them in the side yard to create privacy between the courtyard and the street.
The completed rambler, now 1,680 square feet, is just the right size for the couple, and “never feels crowded or cramped,” said Lenhardt.
Yet it’s flexible for big family gatherings. “We stretched out the dining-room table and set up a bar in the mudroom for 18 people for Thanksgiving last year,” said Parenteau.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
What: Partial teardown and rebuilding of a 1949 rambler to create new spaces including a kitchen, living room, dining room and courtyard-style patio.
Size: 230-square-foot addition. The final square footage is 1,680 and includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Design team: Architects Christopher Strom and Theo Grothe, Christopher Strom Architects, St. Louis Park, 612-961-9093, christopherstrom.com.
Builder: Vercon, Baxter, Minn., verconinc.com.
Interior design: Jeanne Blenkush Design, International Market Square, jeanneblenkush.com.